Saturday, May 7, 2011

This is Preservation

Abstract from the Paper “This is My Land”

In the summer of 2010, activist Rolando Briseño led a group of four actors in setting up an upside-down statue of San Antonio in front of the Alamo in what he called the “Flippin’ San Alamo Fiesta: Cultural Adjustment Performance.”[1] TexasMonthly reported that the upside down statue is part of a Catholic tradition that symbolizes prayer. However, the action could have an even stronger interpretation—some believe that an upside-down talisman of San Antonio has the power to return lost items.[2] And, indeed, Briseño would like to see the restoration of a positive Mexican American role in Alamo history. His goal is to “reconceptualize the Alamo as a space for celebrating the confluences of cultures—Native American, African, Mexican, and Anglo—rather than as a shrine to Anglo dominance”.

In the purest sense, historic preservation is not about rewriting history, but about preserving what’s there already. However, as issues of culture and heritage are highlighted in our increasingly diverse society, preservationists may have to become comfortable with the broadening definition of their jobs. We are starting to ask are we just preserving for the sake of preservation, if not, then why? As students of historic preservation, we are taught to read a building, but we should also become comfortable with restructuring that history. Not in the sense that we can make physical alterations, but in the sense that we are not afraid to challenge the traditional authorized heritage discourse in order to tell a more nuanced story, even in sites of controversy. Through interpretation we become historians; we must be responsible with the history we tell.

[1] Silva, Elda “Turning culture on its head.” San Antonio Express-News, K.5. June 13, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010, from ProQuest National Newspapers Premier.

[2] “Invoking the Saints with Talismans and Other Amulets.” Unhealthy Devotions. 2008